Tips for Balanced Meal Planning on a Budget

Thank you, Stouffer’s for sponsoring this post. As always, all thoughts and opinions are truly my own.

Registered Dietician Andrea Mathis smiles wearing a green shirt and cheetah print cardigan.

Sometimes there’s just not enough hours in the day. Between helping the kids with homework, walking the dogs, and deciding what to prepare for dinner—my days can get pretty hectic! One of the things that has helped to decrease my stress level is meal planning. Meal planning allows me to save a little time in the kitchen during the week, and when done properly it can even help you save money.

After a few years of meal planning, I’ve finally found a system that works for my family and I’m going to share meal planning tips to create affordable, balanced meals with you today!

1. Take Inventory of What You Already Have on Hand
Registered Dietician Andrea Mathis wears a bright pink sweater and looks into her fridge.

Before you start planning your meals, take note of the items in your pantry, fridge, and freezer. And while you’re doing this, it would be a great time to get rid of those expired items that have been taking up extra space! By looking through the food you currently have, you’ll be able to make sure you’re not buying duplicates of food you already have stocked in your kitchen. Making recipes that specifically target the ingredients you already have on hand will keep your grocery list and your budget much smaller.
2. Make A Grocery List
When making your grocery list, think about the meals that you plan to prepare for the week. For example, while you were taking inventory, you may have come across a couple of cans of chili that can be used to make chili cheese baked potatoes – a simple meal of warmed chili over a baked potato that’s topped with grated cheese. Or you may have noticed some cilantro in the fridge and decided to make a pot of cilantro lime rice – chopped fresh cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime juice added to cooked rice. Once you’ve made a list of the supplemental items that are needed to help use up the food you already have, add on any essential household items.
Registered Dietician Andrea Mathis writes in a notebook at her kitchen counter.
3. Whenever Possible, Buy in Bulk
Some items are more cost-effective when purchased in bulk, especially if you are a member of a warehouse store. For example, if sandwiches are on this week’s lunch menu, it might be beneficial to purchase a bulk loaf of bread. Other items such as rice and dried beans can be found in bulk at reduced prices, so it may be a good idea to add these items to your grocery list too. When buying in bulk, make sure that you or your family will be able to use these items before they go bad or else, you’ll just be wasting money.
4. Watch Out for Sale Items
The weekly grocery ads are a great way to see what the stores have on sale. A great money-saving hack is to plan your meals based on the items that are on sale for that week. When purchasing sale items, be open to trying different brands and products. But if you really want to stick to a particular brand, try checking to see if those brands offer manufacturer coupons on their websites or in the weekly newspaper.
A box of Stouffer’s family size Macaroni & Cheese on a kitchen counter in front of a plant and knife block.
5. Choose Budget-Friendly Meals
Frozen, prepared meals are a convenient and budget-friendly option; especially when compared to purchasing the ingredients to make certain recipes yourself. They come in handy on those busy weeknights and there are several wholesome options available. My family’s favorite frozen meal is the Stouffer’s Macaroni & Cheese. Instead of purchasing that long, expensive list of ingredients to make mac & cheese from scratch, I can purchase the family size Stouffer’s Mac & Cheese for less than $10. I pair the mac & cheese with a hearty salad to create a balanced meal that my family loves. I also love that this mac & cheese contains no preservatives and it’s made with fresh pasta and real cheese, yum!
A bowl of Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese with an herb garnish.
6. Take Cash to The Grocery Store
Taking cash to the grocery store has been a complete game-changer! By only using the cash that I set aside for groceries, I am able to stick to my budget and only purchase the items that are on my list. This really helps to reduce impulse spending. When estimating the amount of cash that I need for my grocery trip, I usually look up the price of the items online or in the sales paper.

For more helpful tips, be sure to follow me on Instagram at @beautifuleatsandthings.